March 2004 Archives

Finally, effective anti-spam

Jim has done it.

He's figured out the best way to prevent weblog comment spam. Or something...

Either way, brilliant. :)

Avez-vous déja? ça vous arrive?

Ai-je vraiement déja connu l'amour? Ou fut-ce purement le désir fulgurant d'y croire?
Je l'ignore, et ce fait me décortique à l'écoeurement.

ça vous arrive de vouloir tomber en amour?
L'envie de tout oublier, de tout laisser et de vous lancer dans une aventure, sans peur ni hésitation?
L'envie de ressentir l'accélèration du pouls, le ralentissement du temps; la suspension de l'esprit et l'épanouissement du coeur?

Oui. ça m'arrive aussi, parfois.

Light through concrete - News - Concrete casts new light in dull rooms (March 2004)

The days of dull, grey concrete could be about to end. A Hungarian architect has combined the world's most popular building material with optical fiber from Schott to create a new type of concrete that transmits light.

Can't wait to pack

Just picked up a new suitcase. (Mine is nicer than the one shown... mostly black with a red trim.)

The little forest green piece of crap I've been carrying around just wasn't cutting it. Besides this new one is almost twice has big and half as heavy (empty anyways).

It is a hybrid soft/hard case. The softpart is Bullet-Proof Ballistic nylon. The hard, ABS. If shit goes down in the terminal, I can duck and cover behind it. Hehehehe. Ugh, horrible thought.

I'd like to think I travel light but the reailty is... heck for a 5 day stay in Austin I crammed that little forest green piece of crap to capacity. Four weeks in Tokyo requires more room. What with omiyage (gifts) for everyone. :)

Watch your fingers

SawStop Videos

In our video demonstrations, we are cutting a sheet of plywood or particle board and place a hot dog in the path of the blade to simulate a user's finger. The SawStop system detects contact between the hot dog and the blade of the saw and stops the blade in approximately 5 milliseconds or less, resulting in only a small nick in the skin of the hot dog.

(I don't usually blog stuff I see on Boing Boing, but this is too cool. Table saws always scared the crap out of me.)
(Also just noticed Boing Boing finally switched to MT. Hallelulijah! Hey Cory! Who's yas got for the redesign? Hmmm...)

IM and email and presence, oh my

Beware of geeks bearing 'presence' | CNET

Someday your PC will be able to tell minute-by-minute how others should communicate with you, based on where you are, what you're doing and who's trying to make contact. But for now, it would still be nice if you changed your instant messaging status when you go to lunch.

IBM heeds message to integrate IM, e-mail | CNET

In NotesBuddy, IM dialogs are stored in e-mail in-boxes, and people can search for them by subject or other classifications. The application can also automatically determine whether to send a note as a message or e-mail, depending on the present status of the recipient. Links to the company's phone system also exist.

*cough* Jabber? *cough*

Complexity visualization

Ben Fry doing awesome work on visualization technology for complex and evolving data sets.

This stuff is getting more and more important.

Brits Going at It Tooth and Nail

Wired News: Brits Going at It Tooth and Nail

"toothing," where strangers on trains and buses and at bars and concerts hook up for clandestine sex by text messaging each other with their Bluetooth-enabled cell phones or PDAs.

I and U

Jyri posits:

What counts as a person? What might it mean to design not for preexisting, independent individuals with fixed boundaries but for partially known, locally enacted performances, out of which "individuals" may temporarily materialize as relational effects? How might a non-atomistic metaphysics be enacted in the mundane practices of design, amidst the very real pressures of for-profit mass production? How might one sustainably practice design, insisting that the division between people and machines and other nonhumans is not a stable, universal lawlike division, but a locally negotiated temporary cut? What would it mean to even ask such a thing? To risk it?

Much time have I spent pondering the concepts of "person" and "identity". Nodes in a network, faceted identities, etc, ad nauseam. The classic question always returning to me: "who am I?" While I am quite comfortable in my view of my self, I am particularly fascinated with how that interfaces with the outside world. "Who do you think I am?"

A current view of my "self" and my environment is more sub-atomic and multi-connected. A visualization of myself thus may render as a cluster of constantly evolving multi-surface shapes, each interfacing with my environment in different ways; each interface an individual and unique relationship.

What Jyri posits fits nicely into my view. How does one design for an audience of individuals who are nothing like the set definitions ("user/ consumer/voter/member/actor/author/hero/villain/agent/node/ sender/receiver/mover/shaker") that market analysis set them out to be?

On a constant basis I interact, not only with people, but with objects as well: computers, software applications, cellphone, chair, espresso maker, pepper grinder, shoes, jeans, magazines, cars, wine glasses, product packaging, etc. With each of these objects, I share a special relationship. The more attuned each object is to the surface of whichever particle of my identity it is interacting with, the tighter, more enjoyable, and possibly long-lasting, the relationship is.

This is not new; the best designers, artists as well, know this and work towards it. You must speak to that one little part of your audience that is most receptive to what you are putting forth. You must find that little part, and establish the relationship.

"It grows on you." Especially when you foist tons of fertilizer on it! Ahem.
The assembly-line of mass-production is currently tuned to crank out millions of copies of a design, once market desire is focused in balance with economic potentiality. The next step, customization per segment, is already evident, but constrained to a limited amount of choices: the color of your car, the faceplate of your mobile phone. Here again, the brushstrokes are wide. As industry's ability to micro-produce grows, we will see finer lines in it's works.

The market wants a mobile phone. "Done."
This segment wants exchangeable faceplates, that one requires productivity features. "Done, and done."
Boris wants a small device with a camera, handwriting recognition, PDA functionality, Always on Internet access, Personal Area Network access, oh and it has to be blue. "Um, we can't make that just for you, sorry."

Still today, market research consists of ascertaining what a group of people want. "What do you, as a group, want?"
Current customization, of hard goods anyways, is still constrained to "What do you, from these options, defined by what the group you seem to fit, want?"
Will industry reach a level of production capability where it can ask: "Boris, what do you want? We will make it for you."

Of course in the digital realm this is much easier. Pushing bits is easier than pushing atoms. Custom compilation music CDs can already be bought from wall-mounted kiosks.

Until industry can attain such a level of customized production, designers will remain constrained to designing for "you-as-part-of-this-group", as opposed to "this-one-specific-sensibility-that-this-individual-has".

But NO! Wait!
It is entirely true that groups of individuals share sensibilities and desires. And yes, industry has learnt to home in on those. Hello Apple people! The key point however is that these sensibilities are identified, verified and after making sure they are stable enough to warrant the investment of design, production, marketing and distribution, they are exploited. And THEN, it is made sure that these sensibilities are reinforced, woven in tighter into the fabric of the individual's identity... because hell we tooled up a multi-billion dollar mechanism to exploit it! We wanna milk this as much as we can!

And here I come back to how this relates to identity. Lifestyle marketing and design is all about meshing with individual's identities. And then taking them over. The current "consumer-backlash" comes from individuals who have the awareness to see that they, on the level of their own identities, are being manipulated in order to sustain industry.

Until industry does not need to disrespect my interfaces, it will continue to do so.

My answer to Jyri
What does it mean? It means a required level of respect, of relationship nurturing, one to one. I believe for-profit production is evolving, for it must, and could one day attain the level where it is sustainable to do micro customization. The ramifications are staggering, especially if it happens too quickly. Think of the socio-economic impacts... political as well. We are seeing it already.

Perhaps we are seeing the designer slowly morphing back into the artist, who must whisper to the deepest corners of who we are.

And we must whisper back... This is what will be different from here on.

Smartlists please

A post I just left in Apple's Discussion forums:

Feature request here:
Smartlists. Like in iTunes.
Ratings. Also like in iTunes.

These features would be hugely useful in both the AddressBook and Mail.

For example:
In Address Book I could have a view (smartlist) of:
Contacts I have interacted with (be it via email or iChat) in the last n days/weeks/months, sorted by frequency.

In Mail:
Show me all emails I have not replied to, from people in my Address Book, in the last 7 days.

"Star" ratings, while debateable in their heuristic, would be an acceptable "weighing device".

These features would help stem off the rapidly approaching Complexity Ceiling many of us powerusers are begining to regularily bump our heads against.


Shall we hold our breath? ;)

F CC u

[IP] BBC makes fun of FCC Puritism

It seems some of the Brits are rather amused at the goings on recently at the FCC. Channel Four International (C4i) asked a number of US and UK film and TV stars what the favorite swear words were -- and to say them out loud (and they do).

The ad.

Emergent Volvoism

The Mystery of Dalarö

Thirty-two people in a small town in Sweden all went and bought the same car on the same day. A "documentary" about the "phenomenon".

It'd be interesting if they also provided information about how much Volvo advertising had been present in the town in the month leading up to this...

While in Austin

Others took pictures of me:

Justin snapped this moment with Cory.

Min Jung Kim going crazy with the lipstick.

Group photo in Bruce Sterling's washroom for The Mirror Project

Dav Coleman's gallery of SxSW2004. Thanks Dav!

Jon Lebkowsky's Gallery has a few of me as well.

(Hrmm... more as i find them... maybe...)

Attention spans, worthwhile content and UI

Interesting thread over at blork blog: Brain rot.

As Mike mentions in the comments, he and I have been talking about this stuff a great deal. I met him and immediatly told him: "you need to blog!" (ugh... sorry... the "B" word)

So I set him up. I gave him some default templates I made for general weblogging. Figured, start him off and we'll adjust the UI as we see what he puts into it.

Because, my friends, UI accounts for much of how we interact with our tools... The architecture and presentation affects how a weblogger writes his/her entries, and also how well readers "accept and adobt" those entries. As such, those who are sensitive to this delicate dance, and who have the ability to do so, will adapt the design, both the look and framework, of their weblogs.

So anyways, as soon as Mike had posted his first entry I knew: "oh damn.. he's actually writing! we're gonna have to adabt the design, or at least how he enters his stuff!"

Entry Body, Extended Entry, Excerpt, Title... I want as many people as possible to be able to read Mike's stuff!

Ed, however, raises another issue, obliquely related: the content itself.

Mike's writing mini essays. RSS junkies that we've become have little time for essays. This is terrible and one of the things Mike writes about, and it speaks to that favorite debate about "what is weblogging", as a medium, as a phenomenon, as an influence on our lives and how we "live".

Mike and I have discussed how best to optimise his blog use... from tweaking the presentation, as well as the level of complexity in his writing (which he refuses to flinch on and I don't blame him).

Near the end of our conversation last night it dawned on me that the conversations that he and I have been having should be blogged (he's not alone... many of the conversation I have with various smartypants in real life should be). As such, I'm thinking of a sort of "salon weblog", or sumthin, where I can have conversations with various people.. since THIS weblog is basically my linkdrop/parrot/light commentary weblog. (And this my "deep thoughts" weblog. Can you tell I have time for such a thing? ;)

Hrm, as such I'll leave that there.


MJ went through a stick of lipstick and marked her social network at Bruce Sterling's SxSW 2004 party.

Big warm skwoochy kisses, by the way. ;)

Learning Kana from a monkey... or two

In San Francisco I picked up this book. While it is definitly playful and aimed at children, it is a wonderfully effective way to learn Hiragana. (The bookstore had copies of it in both the "Learn Japanese" and "Children's" sections...)

Last night I downloaded Adriaan's awesomely powerful "Kotoba" application as well. I say powerful because you can access web-available "Lexicons" as well as import user-created ones (though cross-checking the Hiragana-Katakana one with the Monkey book, I noticed it is totally wrong... damn...). Shameless plug: Adriaan is also the developper of the fantastic "ecto" Mac-based weblog editor. Adriaan is also a crafty monkey. Hehehehe.

Anyways, once I am through those two, I will use Nuku Japanese kana tutor to do reinforcement testing. Perfect!

Then I'l have to learn what the hell I am reading actually means!

Start slowly.

Appreciate the technique

I am not a big fan of dogs, or of stupid pet tricks, but this is really quite impressive. (WindowsMedia... of course... It's a dog's world.)

That what is true for you

"To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all...that is genius...

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. 

Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Maiko dances


Finally got around to stitching together the handful of 30 second video clips I took that night in the Gion District of Kyoto last July.

These were taken with my tiny Pentax Optio S which only does 30 seconds of video at a time, with about a 5 second gap while it writes the data to the memory card. Also, the sound and video quality leaves much to be desired, but, voila.

I was pretty drunk at this point so I just put the camera down on the edge of the table and kept pushing the "record" button. That explains the bad angle and the sometimes cropped heads. My apologies. :)

Welcome, Mike Durcak

Looking forward to more awesome stuff, amigo.

Schizo Love


This is funny to me on so many levels...

Right, right.. I had forgotten what we were all doing here...

"correct, we are advancing civilization so that we might get obliterated by an asteroid"
(Overheard in #joiito)

When thoughts collide

I received today my copy of Christopher Alexander's "The Timeless Way of Building" and floated down through the two first chapters as though carried by a gently nimble stream of clear water. More peaceful pondering on that later.

I ordered it for I had seen it mentioned in Ben's profile on Flickr. I briefly met Ben at ETech. His job title at Ludicorp (the makers of Flickr) is "Itinerant Philosopher". I trust in the serendipity of such encounters, even when it means ordering an expensive hardcover book.

Curious to see what other bloggers may have to say about the tome, I keyword-searched Technorati for its title and found that Peter Kaminski, of SocialText, had mentioned it just recently.

Of online social interaction, in the context of applying Alexander's ideas to the development online social spaces, he says this:

whereas architectural patterns of use have thousands of years of experience to draw on, online interactions have only been occurring for decades. It will take time to learn how people best interact online

In an earlier entry here, I pointed us to Mark's "explanation" of McLuhan's "The medium is the message", wherein this is said:

Right at the beginning of Understanding Media, [McLuhan] tells us that a medium is "any extension of ourselves." Classically, he suggests that a hammer extends our arm and that the wheel extends our legs and feet. Each enables us to do more than our bodies could do on their own. Similarly, the medium of language extends our thoughts from within our mind out to others.

I am of this mind:

For the first time, humanity is developing a medium which is not an extension of a faculty we already posses, but one which Douglas Adams refers to as, paraphrased, "the most cursed of social diseases": telepathy. Perhaps even something a step below omniscience. Not knowing "everything", but having easy access to "a heck of a lot". Having built out the infrastructure for our extended central nervous system and memory, personal logging and explicit social network systems will extend our "knowing". While we are at the very very beginning of these developments, it is paramount that we not only stop and ponder the ramifications and changes this will engender, but also make damn sure we move forward in a spirit of what Alexander refers to as "The quality without a name": alive, whole, comfortable, free, exact, egoless, eternal.

As the well placed stones in a garden.

Let me sum it up this way: what do you call a situation where potentially I can know where you are, what you are doing and what you are thinking, and you I? How do we build it, for it WILL be built, making sure we don't drive ourselves collectively batty?

Skewed logic

Nika: I only blog from work. I don't even have a computer at home!
Aaron: Hm.
Me: If I didn't have a computer at home, I'd kill myself.


Maciej: I'd just go out and buy one...

Does that qualify me for a Darwin Award, or what?!

This phone will self destruct in 10 seconds

Imagine this was your ringtone...

"Oh! My phone!
It is ringing!
I must answer it!"


"Where is my phone?
I must find it!
The song is coming from..."


"Will I make it!?
Will I be too late!
I MUST try!"


One ringtone to, in the darkness, bind them

This would drive me sailing clear over the edge.

Make sure to listen to the whole thing... It starts out quite appropirately, as a sweetly rythmic tonal melody and WHAM!

You best make sure to answer that phone before it gets to the ultra twitchy techno house !!!

Time flies

Seems I just got back, but already I am scampering to finalize travel arrangements which have me taking off within a week.

Mid-march will be spent in Austin, Texas for SxSW and a few days in Tampa, Florida, visiting the maternal unit. When I get back I'll have barely two weeks to get ready for what may very well turn into a two month stay in Japan. I may trim that down to just one month so I can come home and enjoy at least some of spring here in Montreal. Also that would give me a chance to properly plan my jaunt to Helsinki, which I would very much like to pepper with a stop-over in Reykjavik, Iceland, a quick jump to St. Petersburg and maybe a stop in London/Brighton/Oxford before coming back home.

Amazing to think that just over a year ago I was sitting in a cubicle making lists of places I'd like to go... and here I am making lists, anxiously mind you, of places I am going.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Whistling in the dark

For years I have been regularly singing a little song to myself, and sometimes a bit louder for others. To me it speaks of the madness of symbols. To those who hear me sing it, it speaks of the madness of me.

It is by "They Might Be Giants" and it goes like this:

A woman came up to me and said
"I'd like to poison your mind
With wrong ideas that appeal to you
Though I am not unkind"
She looked at me, I looked at something
Written across her scalp
And these are the words that it faintly said
As I tried to call for help:

There's only one thing that I know how to do well
And I've often been told that you only can do
What you know how to do well
And that's be you,
Be what you're like,
Be like yourself,
And so I'm having a wonderful time
But I'd rather be whistling in the dark

A man came up to me and said
"I'd like to change your mind
By hitting it with a rock," he said,
"Though I am not unkind."
We laughed at his little joke
And then I happily walked away
And hit my head on the wall of the jail
Where the two of us live today.

There's only one thing that I know how to do well
And I've often been told that you only can do
What you know how to do well
And that's be you,
Be what you're like,
Be like yourself,
And so I'm having a wonderful time
But I'd rather be whistling in the dark

Whistling whistling, Whistling whistling Dark dark, Dark dark!


Mark Federman, Chief Strategist over at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology has posted this for us: What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message?

I need to go lie down now. ;)